Tesla Beats Q4 Delivery Forecast, Falls Behind BYD Globally

Growth Slows Despite Record Deliveries in Quarter
Cars on Tesla lot
Vehicles sit outside a Tesla store in Colma, Calif. (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News)

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Tesla Inc. delivered more vehicles than expected in the fourth quarter, though not enough for the Elon Musk-led company to stay ahead of China’s BYD Co. in global electric car sales.

Tesla handed over 484,507 vehicles in the last three months, beating analysts’ average estimate for 483,173 deliveries. BYD sold 526,409 fully electric vehicles in the quarter to become the new No. 1 in EVs, driven mainly by its much broader lineup of cheaper models in China.

While Austin, Texas-based Tesla exceeded its target to deliver 1.8 million vehicles for the year, the carmaker came up well short of an upside scenario Musk touted 12 months ago. After the CEO told analysts the company had the potential to produce 2 million cars, a series of price cuts failed to stoke enough demand to support that much output.

Tesla shares fell as much as 1.6% shortly after the start of regular trading Jan. 2 in New York. The stock soared 102% last year, rebounding from a record loss in 2022 linked to Musk’s takeover of Twitter, the social media company now known as X.

Tesla and BYD sales chart

The change in EV sales rankings reflects China’s growing clout in the global automotive industry. After surpassing the U.S., South Korea and Germany the last few years, China may have overtaken Japan as the world’s largest passenger car exporter in 2023.

Tesla generates more revenue and profit than BYD because it sells much higher-priced vehicles and relies on just two models for the lion’s share of its sales. The Model Y sport utility vehicle and Model 3 sedan accounted for 95% of deliveries in the fourth quarter.

Musk expanded Tesla’s lineup late last year, starting sales of the Cybertruck years behind schedule. The company didn’t break out how many of the stainless steel-clad pickups it produced and delivered before year-end.

Tesla deliveries chart

The Cybertruck launch marked Tesla’s entry into the highly competitive truck market in the U.S. Musk has cautioned that it may take the company 12 to 18 months to reach volume production and generate positive cash flow with the vehicle, which is difficult to build and packed with new technology.

Although Tesla doesn’t break out quarterly vehicle sales by region, the U.S. and China are its largest markets. The company makes the Model S, X, 3 and Y in Fremont, Calif., and the Model 3 and Y in Shanghai. It also produces the Model Y at its plants in Austin and outside Berlin.

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